Growing the Community
I have a problem and so do you. I eat too much popcorn. Once I start eating it I can’t stop until it is completely gone. I once ate an entire Christmas dinner and then proceeded to finish off a large bucket of popcorn by myself—twice. While your problem may be the same as mine (an insatiable hunger for salty, buttery, crunchy goodness) you have another one. You’re doing flow arts wrong. *Gasp* That’s right I said it. You’re wrong.
So you’re about as cool as it gets: You have hoop decals on the back of your car, you practice partner dragon staff, you take aerials twice a week, and you have doodle AND Russian grips on your fans. You have Mike Icon’s name tattooed on your arm, think Marvin Ong is a god, have been to Fire drums twice and Kinetic six times, and know someone who was related to a guy who was friends with someone who lived in the Vulcan. You even invite all your muggle friends out to the spin jams and hell—you’re such a good friend you let them play with your props, but just enough to show them how awesome you are.
(Is this starting to sound familiar?)
You’re a model citizen. A regular Mr. Rogers with poi. So what’s missing? You my friend have become to flow arts what white girls in UGGS with pumpkin spice lattes are to the rest of the world—a carbon copy.
For many of us, the flow community is a tightly woven, insular unit. We hang out with the same people, watch the same videos, admire the same people, go the same festivals, and aspire to be the best at insert x, y, and z props here. It offers us a sense of security, belonging and purpose. The problem is that this same sense of security creates barriers to entry for new ideas and persons, and stagnates the art form. What are these barriers? Let’s look at a few:
Limited Definition (aka what’s in a name?)
For many people, when they hear the word flow arts there are a lot of associations that come to mind. Ideas about different props and movement styles, the relationship between tech and flow, major festivals, iconic figures etc.
Despite being a highly diverse movement arts community, there are still many groups that exist on the outer edge of what we consider to be the“flow family.” These include aerialists, yogis, parkour enthusiasts, acrobats, gymnasts, martial artists, tutters and liquid dancers, ballet students, belly dancers, members of the color guard, jugglers, and sideshow artists. There are many of us who practice and enjoy these activities, but they are not considered to be part of the flow arts cannon. Even the term spinner inherently highlights a prop-focused take on movement arts.
This exclusion hits me especially hard as someone who identifies as a fire-eater and a magician. Fire eating is very seldom anyone’s primary fire prop or ticket into conclave, and although magic is a beautiful form of object manipulation, you would be hard pressed to find many magicians at an open spin. This is just one of many similar stories. I have several friends in the circus arts that have taken up props just so they can feel more connected with the community.
At the end of the day we have to remind ourselves that flow is about the state of mind and not the discipline itself. Even filing tax returns can be a flow art for the right person (however disturbing that may be).
Lack of Conviction
If you want someone else to love something as much as you do, you are relentless about it. You manhandle your friends and drag them out to see your favorite movie. You spam your favorite song all over everyone’s facebook wall to the point where no one can stand you. The same should be true of flow arts. Sell them on it! Your friends, your family, your dog for crying out loud. We like to talk about how awesome what we do is, but when is the last time you tried to recruit someone into the fold with a vengeance? No successful cult ever got started with the opening line “the Kool-Aid is pretty okay, you should try it some time maybe—I think.”
Accessibility and Elitism
Much like high school, the flow community is full of cliques: The free spirited flow kids, the techies, the fan clan, those two guys who do diabolo, poi spinners, hoopers, those who do short string leviwand and those who don’t. The list goes on. And much like high school, many of these cliques are competing in a popularity competition to see who will become the undefeated champion of the spin kingdom.
Probably the biggest example of this is the ongoing feud between the “tech” and “flow” schools of thought: the argument being that technical study constitutes true mastery. Another similar argumentative strain postulates that there is a certain prerequisite or level of mastery required to invest in high quality or expensive props even for recreational spinning.
Furthermore there are often stereotypes about certain prop spinners and who belongs to what i.e. poi are toys for boys and hooping is a girls sport.
From an outsider’s perspective this can be a huge buzzkill as it makes atypical choices and lack experience seem like insurmountable hurdles.
At the end of the day what makes this community great is the incredible diversity of talents and styles that are present within it. The “you do you” attitude is exactly what allows us to thrive and continue to grow and expand the art form with new ideas. If we make a professional habit out of raining on other people’s parades we’re just going to be a whole bunch of people with wet shoes and soggy pocket change.
What’s that you say? The sound of segue? Oh happy day! Now that we’ve concluded our obligatory tribute to Dr. Seuss let’s talk about ways “doing your own thing” stunts creativity. Even withstanding the tidal waves of peer pressure, it can be hard to keep true to your own flow with the danger of social media lurking around the corner. Most of us consume so many prop related videos it’s unimaginable. Don’t believe me? Check to see how much of your monthly data is going to viewing instagram videos. I maxed out at seven gigs and hit a slow down before the first two weeks of my billing period started.
All that to say we spend a lot of time watching other people do cool stuff—and why shouldn’t we? There is a whole world of ideas, shared interests, specialty groups, etc. just waiting for our consumption. The problem is that with all this input it’s easy to copy too much of what we see into our own practice- sometimes without even thinking about it. It’s easy to view content and want to do ALL THE THINGS! But remember, new moves aren’t like pokemon—you don’t, in fact, have to collect them all. The best things someone ever said to me was “it doesn’t have to be in your flow”—and it’s true. It’s okay to say no. Just because x famous spinner does it doesn’t mean you have to. Take what you like and let the rest hit the floor.
It’s important to remember that even “flow celebrities” are just people like you who tired stuff and then founds something cool that stuck. So go find something of your own and become the next big thing, or don’t. But at the end of the day remember to have fun.
So to sum all this up in a neat and tidy fortune cookie like conclusion, the biggest problem that keeps our community from growing is ego. We get tangled up in labels limitations, terminology, rules, and a feeling of self-importance. We forget to do what we love because we love it and to pass that passion on to others with conviction and fervor. We were all someone else before we starting spinning props and playing with fire and those people were the ones who got us started down this road.
Each and every one of us represents the future of this art form and without our unique contributions and drive for excellence it will die out and become another passing fad. So with all the warm fuzzy dime store fiction, daytime television, hallmark greeting card, clichés in my heart, I invite you to take the next step and grow the community.